The longer I have been in ministry, the more I have found the ancient Latin proverb to be true: Repetitio mater studiorum est (i.e. repetition is the mother of all learning). Or, as Samuel Johnson, so helpfully noted: “People need to be reminded more often than they need to be instructed.” This is no less true for a local church that is collectively seeking to fulfill the Great Commission, as it is for individual believers who are personally seeking to live out the Christian life in light of the truth of God’s word. While it may seem unnecessarily redundant to revisit basic biblical categories with church members, there are a number of categories–given to us by Jesus in the Great Commission and the Apostles in the New Testament epistles–into which biblically defined end goals of ministry in the local church may be ordered. While these ends can be considered basic or foundational to the life of a local church, a friend of mine recently reminded me of the need that ministers have to constantly hold them up before the eyes of the entire congregation.
In order to better lead the congregation forward in faithfully carrying out the Great Commission, the elders at New Covenant Presbyterian Church hold an informational meeting with the congregation at the beginning of each new year. At this meeting, we seek to summarize where we’ve been as a church over the course of a year (i.e. to give consideration to the goals met, growth perceived, challenges faced and deficiencies experienced), as well as where we wish to be at the end of the new year. One of the benefits of having a meeting like this is that it helps the leadership more clearly articulate the direction of the church in a highly focused and purposeful manner. Additionally, it gives the leadership an opportunity to pinpoint areas in the life of the church where growth is needed. However, the potential danger of leaving members confused as to the means goals and the end goals of all ministry in the life of a local church is one of the challenges that we face as we prepare for this meeting. As we wish to avoid erring in this way, the leadership at New Covenant is seeking to reestablish, in the minds of the congregants, the broad categories of biblical ministry goals. In doing so, we are hoping to encourage both the leadership and the membership of the church to keep the means and the ends of ministry in the local church clearly distinguished.
Of course, the ultimate goal of all ministry in a local church is “to glorify God and to enjoy Him forever. However, there are five basic categories into which all of what we may call the “antepenultimate and penultimate ends” can be ordered. They are as follows:
- Worship. In a very real sense, gathered Lord’s Day worship is the most important of all that to which God calls the church to enter in on in this life and in the life to come. Eric Alexander summarized this so well when he said, “According to Scripture, the constant activity of the church in heaven and the chief business of the church on earth is worship.” When God redeemed Israel out of Egypt, the first place to which He brought them was to the mountain where they were to worship Him. When the Spirit descended on God’s people at Pentecost, believers gathered together in worship and gave themselves to “the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers” (Acts 2:42). Throughout the book of Acts, we find the members of the New Covenant church gathering together on the first day of the week to give God the glory and praise of which He is worthy.
- Evangelism. Side by side with the God-ordained call for the people of God to give themselves to the corporate worship of God is the God-ordained call for the people of God to bear witness to God’s redeeming work in Christ. Jesus has personally given the church the unique work of calling men and women, boys and girls, out of every tribe,tongue, people and nation to Himself. This means that the local church should be intentional about equipping its members to be effective witnesses to Christ. The means of evangelism may be numerous in nature (i.e. worship, preaching, personal interactions, mercy ministry and missions); however, the end goal must always be singular in nature–namely, the call of individuals to come to Jesus Christ in faith and repentance. The imperative nature of this work is that we can’t do it in heaven. We will worship with the people of God for all eternity in glory, but there is a limited amount of time in which we can carry out this part of the Great Commission.
- Discipleship. Closely aligned to the work of evangelism is the work of discipleship. When Jesus sent the Apostles out into all the world to preach the Gospel, He charged them to “make disciples of all nations…teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you” (Matt. 28:20). Once men and women have been savingly united to Jesus Christ by regeneration and faith, one of the chief tasks given to the church and its leadership is the maturing of the saints in the truth of God’s word. As is true of evangelism, there are a number of means by which discipleship may be carried out. Certainly, discipleship take place under the ministry of the word, Lord’s Day to Lord’s Day. It also takes place in the homes of believers–parents discipling their children (2 Tim. 1:5; Eph. 6:4). However, we also see it taking place in the form of an individual believer pouring into the life of another believe–as Paul did with Timothy (Phil. 2:22) and Onesimus (Philemon 1:10). Additionally, we see that discipleship occurred in the form of a godly couple–Pricilla and Aquila–taking Apollos aside and teaching him more accurately in the things about Jesus (Acts 18:24-25). But in whatever form it may occur, the Scriptures are clear that discipleship must be prioritized as one of the end goals of ministry in the life of a local church.
- Fellowship. Who can read the New Testament letters and not see what a prevalent place the fellowship of the saints holds in the life of a local church? Whether it is seen in the 150+ “one another” commands in the epistles, or in the Apostle’s charging the members of local congregations to welcome and be hospitable to one another, the fellowship of the saints is one of the end goals of the work of the church on earth. What would a family look like if the members never ate a meal together, spent time together, talked with one another and prayed with and for one another? The church is the family of God, the household of faith in which we are united together as fathers and mothers, brothers and sisters. It is for this reason that fellowship is one of the ends to be pursued in the life of the church.
- Service. Last, but certainly not least, among the ends goal toward which a local church labors is that of service. The Apostle Paul–in both Romans 12 and 1 Corinthians 12-14–exhorts the people of God to use the gifts that God has given them in diligent, loving, faithful, joyful and earnest service. Jesus modeled this for the people of God by coming “not to be served, but to serve and to give His life a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45). As is true with many of the other end goals listed above, service may take many different shapes and forms. The Scriptures give us a number of means by which service occurs (e.g. visiting the sick and widows, hospitality, teaching, giving, exhorting, administration, singing, leading, praying, etc.). The ministries of mercy to the members of the household of faith and to those in need in the community also falls within the realm of service. In whatever shape or form it takes, service must be pursued as one of the foremost of ends aimed at by the members of a local church.
As we set out on a new year as pastors, leaders and members of local churches, we must revisit these fundamental end goals in order to have them reestablished in our thinking. We must guard against acting as if means are ends in themselves. As we diligently give of our time, gifts, energy, prayers and resources in order to reach these God-appointed goals, we will find that the church will become more and more of what the church is supposed to be in the world for the glory of God and the building up of His people.